Saskatchewan Aviation Chronology 1990-99

1991 -- La Ronge Aviation Services bought Air Saskatchewan, the La Ronge-based firm competing with Athabaska Airways. Air Sask Aviation had been founded by a group of businessmen in La Ronge. While the name "Air Sask" remained in existence, the firm was operated by La Ronge Aviation Services Ltd. The combined company flew scheduled and charter services in Saskatchewan as well as charter flights, and was involved in ground-handling operations for Northwest Airlines at Saskatoon and Regina. Source: La Ronge/Air Sask website at

1992, Jan. 20 -- After a full month of rumours, the Saskatchewan government formally announced it would support (through Sedco loans) a bid by Regina’s Harvard Developments to buy the struggling Piper Aircraft company of Vero Beach, Florida, and move it to Saskatchewan, creating about 500 production jobs. Under the plan, the province would have 30% of Piper’s equity, Harvard 47% and American Cyrus Eaton of Cleveland 23%.
 Piper had been bedeviled by American legal precedents that made it vulnerable to expensive lawsuits, putting severe financial pressure on the firm, reduced to only 45 workers by the summer of 1991. So confident was Owen Mitchell, acting president of Sedco, that he said, "We’ll have some Piper planes roll out of a Canadian facility within a year of closing the deal."
 Ray Johnson, Piper’s vice-chairman, added: "It’s obvious Saskatchewan has the inside track. They have all their ducks in a row and their money together."

Within two months, however, bidders in B.C., Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta were interested. By April 1993, an Associated Press dispatch indicated there was also interest from several American firms, plus the Swiss Pilatus aerospace consortium, which eventually won the bidding, and kept Piper in Vero Beach.

In February, 1994, it was estimated that Harvard and provincial government agencies had spent a total of $1.2 million on the unsuccessful project. (See "Plane deal not ruled out, financier says,", The Toronto Star, Dec. 7, 1991; "The Piper deal", The Leader-Post, Jan. 21, 1992; "Piper deal showdown in sight", The Financial Post, March 6, 1992; "Failed Piper bid costly", The Leader-Post, Feb. 25, 1994.

1993 -- CFB Moose Jaw’s trio of CH-118 (Bell CUH-1H) helicopters, assigned to its base rescue flight, were reassigned to rescue flights at other Canadian bases. This raised questions as to whether this jeopardized pilots training at the base. (See "Lack of air rescue threatens safety, forces pilots say crash of Snowbird: using the roads puts Moose Jaw training at greater risk", National Post, Jan. 22, 1999

1995, May -- Exploiting the recently signed "Open Skies "air travel treaty between Canada and the U.S., Minnesota-based Northwest Airlines began four daily round-trip flights a day into Saskatchewan, two each to Regina and Saskatoon. DC-9-30 aircraft were used initially. See "Open Skies Plan Working", The Leader-Post, May 2, 1995

At the same time, Athabaska Airways began once-a-day service from Regina to Williston, N.D., where it linked with the route system of United Express.

Both firms used Beech 1900 aircraft. Athabaska’s service was canceled in November, 1995 and the aircraft reassigned to fly between Saskatoon and Regina, Brandon and Winnipeg. (See "Treaty benefits Regina: Open skies agreement brings more flights", The Leader-Post, Feb. 28, 1996.

1995 - Feb. 22 -- A massive balloon carrying American businessman-adventurer Steve Fossett made an emergency landing in a muddy field near the town of Leader, 150 km northwest of Swift Current. Balloonist Fossett was trying to enter aviation history by making the first nonstop trip around the world in a balloon. Starting from South Korea and ending near Leader, he was short of his goal -- but even at that made a record-breaking flight of 5,435.82 statute miles.

Aft landing, Fossett and local volunteers spent several hours collapsing the balloon so it wouldn't be grabbed by winds and carried off. So great was media interest that a TV crew from far-off New York landed in a LearJet at nearby Kindersley.

Fossett was remembered by one Leader resident as "a really unassuming guy; he's a multimillionaire, but a real down-to-earth guy, really easy to talk to and very approachable." Fossett persevered and successfully circumnavigated the world on attempt No. 6, in June/July 2002. Source: "Leader recalls balloonist's visit", The Leader-Post, July 4, 2002, Page: A9

1996, June 13 -- Calgary-based WestJet began service to Regina, having redeployed a Boeing 737 aircraft previously assigned to a route into Winnipeg.

1997, Oct. 25 -- at a 50th anniversary celebration of the air ambulance service, the provincial health department announced it had acquired a medically-equipped Piper Cheyenne IIIA for the service.

1998, Aug. 12 -- Air Canada and its regional airline subsidiary, AirBC, unveiled a realignment of operations in western Canada.

Air Canada shifted operations of several routes involving Regina and Saskatoon (from Calgary and Winnipeg) to AirBC. Air Canada redeployed two Airbus A320, one Airbus A319 and six Canadair Regional Jet aircraft to operate on more profitable routes. Air BC applied Dash 8 and BAe146 aircraft. (Source: joint AC and AirBC news release of Aug. 12, 1998.)

September 1998 -- The Danish Air Force joined the NATO Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) program being developed for 15 Wing at Moose Jaw. Commented The Ottawa Citizen: "The Danish deal is a boost to the program, which is trying to bring down the price of training Canadian pilots by sharing the overall costs with other countries. Six Danish pilots will enroll in the program each year for the next 20 years.

The Canadian Forces and the firms involved in the training program also hope that other NATO nations will select the plan to train their student pilots." (For further details, see Page A3 of The Leader-Post, Sept. 5, 1998.)

December 10, 1998 -- A mid-air collision near Moose Jaw claimed the life of Snowbirds pilot Capt. Michael VandenBos. Tutor #2, s/n 114156, was in a six-ship formation on a training flight in a manoeuvre called an "up-and-down left-spiral right" when the underside of the left wing of aircraft #6 contacted the upper surface of the right horizontal stabilizer of #2. The pilot ejected from the aircraft, but suffered fatal injuries upon hitting the ground. (Source: Aircraft Occurrence Summary, CF Directorate of Flight Safety)